Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act Zero Risk Motivations

The last several years I have spent an inordinate amount of time evaluating the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (Climate Act) and its legal mandate for New York State greenhouse gas emissions to meet the ambitious net-zero goal by 2050.  As the implementation outline for the transition to a net-zero evolves I have been struck by the number of people involved with the transition that insist on reducing their perceived priority risks to zero.  That is the antithesis of a pragmatic approach and I have tried to understand where those folks are coming from.  This post describes some recent articles at the Risk Monger blog that address the motivations of those who want zero risks.

Everyone wants to do right by the environment to the extent that they can afford to and not be unduly burdened by the effects of environmental policies.  I submitted comments on the Climate Act implementation plan and have written over 250 articles about New York’s net-zero transition because I believe the ambitions for a zero-emissions economy embodied in the Climate Act outstrip available renewable technology such that the net-zero transition will do more harm than good.  The opinions expressed in this post do not reflect the position of any of my previous employers or any other company I have been associated with, these comments are mine alone.

Climate Act Background and Risk Management

The Climate Act establishes a “Net Zero” target (85% reduction and 15% offset of emissions) by 2050. The Climate Action Council is responsible for preparing the Scoping Plan that will “achieve the State’s bold clean energy and climate agenda”.  The Integration Analysis prepared by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) and its consultants quantifies the impact of the strategies.  That material was used to write a Draft Scoping Plan that was released for public comment at the end of 2021. The Climate Action Council states that it will finalize the Scoping Plan by the end of the year.  Climate Action Council meetings have included discussions about revisions to the Draft Scoping Plan that emphasize the need for zero risk that is the opposite of a pragmatic approach to the risks of climate change.

I addressed risk management for the Climate Act in August 2020.  That article and this one relies on work done the Risk Monger, a blog “meant to challenge simplistic solutions to hard problems on environmental-health risks”. The author of the blog, David Zaruk, is an EU risk and science communications specialist since 2000, active in European Union (EU) policy events and science in society questions of the use of the Precautionary Principle. He is a professor at Odisee University College where he lectures on Communications, Marketing, EU Lobbying and Public Relations. In my opinion, he clearly explains the complexities of risk management and I recommend his work highly. 

Zero Risk Motivations

Zaruk has argued that the Precautionary Principle, a strategy to cope with possible risks where scientific understanding is incomplete, has led many to rely on the idea that to be safe we have to eliminate all risks as a precaution.  Zaruk explains that the problem is that policy-makers and politicians have confused this uncertainty management tool with risk management.  In the August 2020 article I described his analysis and conclusion of the failures of risk management of the COVID-19 response.  While fascinating on its own, it also provides a cautionary tale relative to New York’s energy policy and implementation of the Climate Act. 

This article describes some of his recent work and its relevance to the Climate Act implementation process.  Over the last couple of months, he has published four relevant articles that I will summarize below:

THE Science, THE Environment, THE Climate… Abusing the “The” in Risk Issues

This article makes the point that the definite article has been “abused by activists needing definite truths to win policy debates on complex problems.” When someone describes, for example, “The” science they are claiming certainty on issues that are anything but certain. Zaruck writes:

Improperly using “the” in front of an abstract noun is part of a game to claim authority, isolate dissenters, simplify an issue and close dialogue. In declaring: “This is the science on XYZ” an activist is attempting to own the issue and shut down any discussion or analysis. In a policy framework where there may be uncertainty or grey areas, imposing a “the” provides a wedge between others’ false opinions and “the” truth. It is staking a claim to colonise a debate. Interestingly, it cannot be applied to issues that don’t allow for simplification or are too broad and complex. We do not speak of “the” food or “the” health without qualifications.

In reality, science is a continuous process where hypotheses are constantly challenged and confirmed.  Zaruk notes that it refers to “a process – a method – not some body of truth”.  When Climate Act proponents invoke “the” science, they are referring to is a consensus view.  Zaruk notes that arguing consensus is “a politicized pronouncement of the state of scientific research” and points out that “A consensus abhors sceptics (ostracizing them as deniers)”.  In reality a scientist must always be skeptical.

Zaruk addresses the definite article related to the environment:

When it is used with a definite article, it implies that the environment is a place … perhaps where biodiversity is being “stored”.  Is it in some location, outside of urban areas, in “nature”? But nature is a proper noun (personified in Mother Nature). As a construct, “the” environment appears to be in peril since we are being told how we can save it by polluting less, using natural products, having fewer children… Saving “the” environment means we all get to go to some Shangri-La, living longer and more harmoniously with nature. With simple views comes simplistic polarisation: natural = good (part of “the” environment); synthetic = bad (part of man).

Oversimplifying humankind in the world relative to nature turns issues into a simple dichotomy. Good vs. bad. safe or unsafe, or us-vs-them. He notes that: “For them, industry, corporations, conventional farmers… are against the environment and they are for it.”  In reality, however the environment is everywhere and affects everything in a complex, unpredictable manner. He explains that activists are playing a divide and conquer approach for their own interests.  He notes that:

Worse, hard-core activists have separated the environment from humanity and potentially beneficial technological solutions. In other words, the only way to “save” the environment is to keep humans away from “it”, to stop doing what we have been doing and let it heal itself (see Charles Mann’s The Wizard and the Prophet). These misanthropes welcome any environmental events as fuel for their hatred but their anti-technology solutions are simply “failure by design”.

He also addresses the climate consensus:

But what is a consensus and what does it mean? Formally, a consensus is anything above 50% but that lacks political impact. 100% agreement is impossible but as close to 100% is desirable. Certain scientific facts are rarely disputed and widely accepted (Newton’s laws are not considered theories, certain human limitations are self-evident…) but it is not so much whether a position has been tested and retested, but that the scientific method is a mindset: Always be prepared to question and re-evaluate. By arguing for a consensus – “the” science – the scientific method is being suppressed by some political interest.

If we spoke outside of the definite article – not of “the” science, “the” environment or “the” climate but of scientific issues on environmental concerns and climate evolutions, such transcendence would not be possible. Our discourse would shift from the dogmatic beliefs to pragmatic solutions and ridiculous conclusions would be rightfully challenged. This is not something that activists would want and we have not taken much notice of their linguistic deception.

Zaruk concludes:

I suppose what gets to me the most about these manipulative ideologues making claims on behalf of “the” truth (on subject matters which most science-minded people are struggling to find pragmatic solutions to complex problems) is their sanctimonious moral elitism. That their righteous condemnations were built on an illegitimate consensus, arbitrary divisions, linguistic deceptions and simplification just adds to their hypocrisy. They are pompous zealots cloaked and choked in their own false piety and any respect or trust they will have manufactured from their manipulative wordplay will be short-lived.

The Industry Complex (Part 1): The Tobacconisation of Industry

This essay is the first chapter of his analysis of the vilification of industry by activists that don’t want to weigh the benefits, risks, and costs of alternatives.  He notes that in Europe industry lobbyists are just going through the motions and have given up on the policy process.  This is also evident in New York.  All of the electric generating companies and delivery companies know that there are major challenges associated with the net-zero transition but have not stood up and publicly rebuked the current plans.  The New York Independent System Operator and the New York State Reliability Council have carefully fashioned their comments and reports to not offend the Hochul Administration’s pursuit of what the experts know very likely won’t work on the schedule proposed. 

Zaruk explains that the tactic of not strongly engaging in the policy process will only work for so long before it is too late to salvage their business.  The electric utility companies are going along with all the risks hoping someone will speak up and demand accountability.  For their part they continue their public sustainability campaigns supporting doing something about climate change and keep their concerns about the transition buried in industry comments that no one reads and the Climate Action Council ignores.  The ultimate question is will be anyone be willing to be the bad guy?

This essay explains how the policy process that has been corrupted by activists demonizing industry will eventually cause problems. Zaruk notes that corporations “do not consider the ramifications – that the constant media assault, reputation, and trust destruction and political denormalization of industry are an existential threat.”  In New York the utility companies publicize their sustainability programs and their own net-zero plans and seem to think that the public will embrace their actions and not treat them like Big Tobacco pariahs.  Unfortunately, Zaruk argues that is not the case.

In Europe Zaruk points that that:

The last decade has seen a rather audacious move by activist NGOs (and some policymakers particularly in Brussels) to ostracise most industries from the public policy dialogue process, create public revulsion and denormalise companies as stakeholders and social actors. This proved to be a successful strategy during the war on tobacco and many of their campaign tools are now simply being copy-pasted to other industries. Some, particularly in the financial industry, have bought into the activist campaigns and are courting public favour by considering a degrowth strategy or a capitalism reset. But can such a beast seriously hide its stripes?

This is exactly what has happened with the Climate Action Council.  Of the 22 members on the Council only two represent industry interests and their input is constantly disparaged.  More importantly, the Hochul Administration has ignored industry expert concerns about all the technical challenges of the net-zero transition.  The Scoping Plan drafts may refer to reliability a lot but there hasn’t been any suggestion that reliability concerns might slow the schedule.

Zaruk describes the concept of industry vilification:

I came across the word “tobacconisation” while reading an American activist conference report, Establishing Accountability for Climate Change Damages: Lessons from Tobacco Control, masterminded by Naomi Oreskes, the Union for Concerned Scientists and the Climate Accountability Institute in 2012 in La Jolla, California. This meeting of lawyers, activists and scientists argued that the tobacco industry lobby did not capitulate in the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement because of the science, regulatory restrictions or public outrage. They gave in because of the insurmountable financial costs of endless waves of tort litigation that threatened to wipe out the industry. So the La Jolla Plaintiff Playbook was to take that same strategy and apply it to the petroleum industry – to destroy public trust and then litigate the hell out of oil companies for damages due to climate change until they either go bankrupt or change their business model.

Zaruk describes three key activist tobacconisation strategies being applied against most industries.  The first is adversarial regulation.  This is a strategy where regulatory scientists effect change not through the democratic policy process but through the courts. With respect to the Climate Act at least the legislation was passed by the state legislature, albeit it was written by activists and I doubt that very few supporters understood the risks, costs, and challenges. 

The second strategy is to limit communications and ban advertising.  Activists have a key role in this playbook to raise public outrage against targeted companies.  With respect to the Climate Act, they are aided by a compliant media that parrots the main talking points without any challenges.  If anyone dares to suggest anything that does not hew to the narrative then the activists demean those remarks and smear the speaker.  Zaruk explains that “they need to ostracise the company or industry and exclude them from any role as a societal actor.”

The final strategy is public outrage trumps bad science.  Zaruk describes it as follows:

Public outrage against Big Tobacco meant that poor science (on the health risks of second-hand smoke or vaping) could be glanced over with little scrutiny in the policy process. People were fed up with the industry and just wanted to believe the research claims were accurate.

Opportunistic public officials wanting to play to the loud activist mobs need simply reach for the precautionary safety pin to gain favour without any risk of data or evidence interfering with this strategy. For policymakers, it is a no-brainer to play the precaution card (demanding that the substance is proven with certainty to be 100% safe prior to acting) rather than lock horns with angry activist groups with friends in the media.

Zaruk describes three approaches to fight the zero-risk mentality.  He suggests: “demand a White Paper articulating a rational strategy on the use of the precautionary principle within a clear risk management process.”  His primary concern is the EU policies but New York is following the same approach.  He states that “the hazard-based policy approach has to branded for what it is: irrational.”

His second approach is to call out the non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that drive much of this policy.  They “break rules, act without respect for moral principles (unlike industry, very few NGOs have an ethical code of conduct that guides their behaviour) and ignore evidence and data in their campaigns.”  This is problematic with respect to the Climate Act because there are members of the Climate Action Council and the advisory panels who are from prominent climate activist NGOs.

Finally, he points out that the rules of engagement need to apply to all. There is evidence that the NGOs actively supporting the Climate Act have had access to material not available to all.  In no small part that is probably because some Council members are from these NGOs.  The end result is that the regulatory process has become biased.

The Industry Complex (Part 2): The Hate Industry

Zaruk’s second essay on the industry complex describes the business of demonizing industry.  He says:

The last two decades of relentless anti-industry attacks in the media, cinema and policy arenas have taught industry actors to be quiet in public, but they should not be ashamed of what their innovations and technologies have brought to humanity. We are living longer with a better quality of life, direct access to better food while feeding a growing global population, enjoying amazing personal communications devices, travelling faster and safer and accessing information in seconds. But all we hear about industry in the public sphere is resentment and animosity. This is the “Industry Complex.”

Zaruk describes one of the ironies of the professional hatred of industry.  He notes that:

Most of the people throwing brown beans at artwork or spray painting corporate offices are from a privileged class that have never experienced want. The tragic consequence of such “altruistic” zealot demonstrations is that the victims from the policy decisions they are forcing through are the most vulnerable in society, and will never be heard.

In New York primary funding for the ideological war on natural gas comes from trust funds controlled by the ultra-rich who have never experienced work.  I think one of the problems with the privileged and ultra-rich classes is that they have very little experience dealing with real-world problems associated with making things work.  For example, people who have not done much gardening may want to ban pesticides but they haven’t had a bug infestation wipe out a crop.  They have no experience with the fact that reality bats last.

Zaruk points out that the definition of industry has expanded beyond manufacturing.  In particular:

 “Industry” is now an umbrella term referring to any capitalist venture that may involve risk, inequity, and unequal access to markets. This definition makes targets because of shared social justice tenets of anyone associated taking risks. All perceived problems are blamed on “industry” all the while ignoring all the benefits derived from their activities.  The vilification of fossil fuels is a perfect example.  Despite the fact that all metrics show improvements in all quality-of-life metrics with increased use of fossil fuels, their continued use is attacked.

Zaruk gives an example of violence in France related to farming practices and states:

We can’t simply brush these people off as confused and frightened Luddites. Opportunistic activists have twisted reality, converting fear and uncertainty into a dangerously powerful political force. As one commentator on BFM decried: “This is the collapse of rationality “. Not only do they believe their hateful bullshit, they are relentlessly spreading it with a missionary zeal via an unaccountable social media propaganda tool (while the rest of us remain tolerant or uninformed).

This is entirely apropos of the ideologues pushing the net-zero transition in New York.  They can say just about anything and get away with it.  Activist organizations claim that the public is in favor of net-zero but the question is whether that support is limited to a loud minority of activist ideologues? Will the majority be heard when they lose their jobs while their energy and food costs go through the roof?  I have always thought that would be inevitable conclusion but as long as people only listen to what they want to, then they will likely not speak up or place blame incorrectly.

Zaruk explains that many irrational policy decisions are justified by activist anti-industry objectives.  For example, consider the European decisions to shut nuclear reactors even though there is an energy crisis looming.  Zaruk notes that:

In the face of an energy crisis, ecologists are holding firm in Germany and Belgium against keeping some nuclear reactors from being decommissioned arguing that such a move would be supporting big business. Greenpeace claimed shutting down these reactors would give energy production back to the people. Renewables like wind and solar have the image of small, locally produced energy (from nature), enjoying a virtuous halo that belies the big companies making these technologies or managing the big wind parks and solar farms.

I believe that Zaruk’s conclusions of the European solution is consistent with what is happening in New York relative to the net-zero transition.  He notes:

These decisions are not based on issues of cost, efficiency, and benefits, but only on an ideology built on the hatred of industry. Thus, the pro-renewables and pro-organic policies dominating the European Commission Green Deal strategy are not based on facts or research but ideology. They are, in a word, irrational.

The Industry Complex (Part 3): A Return to Realpolitik

In this essay Zaruk argues that it is time for regulators to “start doing their job: making the hard decisions and managing risks rather than promising a world of zero risk to a public that has come to expect simple solutions to complex problems.”  He argues that it is time for a return to Realpolitik: “making the best choices from a finite list of options and circumstances rather than continuing the current approach of false promises that someone else will have to pay for”.

Zaruk explains the concept of Realpolitik:

It is not a new concept. The term “Realpolitik” was in use several decades before Bismarck (commonly referred to as the father of Realpolitik). It was developed by Ludwig von Rochau who tried to introduce Enlightened, liberal ideas, post 1848, into a political world that was embedded in less rational cultural, nationalistic and religious power dynamics (much like the green dogma pushing many Western political spheres today). Realpolitik is often best understood by what it is not: it refers to decisions not made solely on issues of ideology and morality. In other words, Realpolitik refers to pragmatic decisions based on best possible outcomes and compromises (something done when leaders have to face unpleasant realities). Ideologues can easily ignore scientific facts when imposing their power but Realpolitikers will follow the best available science while appealing to reason.

He explains that in Europe as in New York, politicians shutdown nuclear facilities to placate the loud, activist minority but did not consider “pragmatic alternatives or a rational transition plan.” He said “a Realpolitiker would not have shut down the nuclear power stations until the energy transition was safely achieved.”  It gets worse in New York because the Department of Environmental Conservation is proposing regulations that require existing fossil-fired generating plants to consider compliance with the Climate Act as part of their operating permit extensions.  It is possible that they could shut down those facilities before alternatives consistent with the Climate Act are operating.

Zaruk argues that “we should aim for safer rather than safe.”  He points out:

Safer is something risk managers in industry measure and continually strive for while safe is an emotional ideal that cannot be measured or, for that matter, reached. We will never have safe, but we can always strive for safer. This is where a more pragmatic, Realpolitik approach would be more successful than any arbitrary risk aversion.

Realpolitik accepts that a perfect world is a pipe dream. Freed from the shackles of seeking the totally safe, they get to work on risk management, reducing exposures to as low as reasonably possible (achievable) and making the world (products, substances, systems…) better – safer. They seek a world with lower risks for more people, not zero risks for all people. We need to turn away from the fundamentalist activist mindset and adopt a more industrial, scientific approach (as seen in product stewardship): of continuous improvement, constant iteration, and technological refinement.

Conclusion

Zaruk provided a good summary of his work and if you replace Brussels with Albany, it is apropos to New York:

It is patently clear industry actors in Brussels cannot continue to do what they have been doing. Brussels has far too many activists with special interests solely dedicated to seeing industry and capitalism fail. They have money, passion and limited ethical constraints as they execute their objectives with missionary zeal. This series on the Industry Complex has tried to show how anti-industry militants have worked to destroy trust in all industries (excluding them from the policy process and equating the word “industry” with some immoral interpretation of lobbying) and using the same tactics that worked with the decline of the tobacco industry. Using the emerging communications tools to create an atmosphere of fear and hate, these activists have successfully generated a narrative that the only solution to our problems is to remove industry, their innovations and their technologies. And their solutions are getting even more extreme (with, for example, 6000 environmental militants recently attacking an irrigation pond project on a farm in France for being too “industrial”). Policymakers, perceiving these loud voices as representative, have adopted the path of virtue politics rather than Realpolitik (of policy by aspiration and ideology rather than practical solutions relying on the best available evidence).

The Climate Act and the transition plan embodied in the Draft Scoping Plan is full of examples where the perceived risks of fossil fuels are comprehensively addressed but none of the risks of the proposed alternatives are addressed.  The most glaring Climate Act example is the requirement that the full life cycle and upstream emissions associated with fossil fuels must be considered to eliminate those risks.  Those considerations are not applied to wind, solar, and battery technologies.  The benefits of the current energy system are ignored and the risks of the net-zero future system minimized.  This approach will not work out in the best interests of New York.

Author: rogercaiazza

I am a meteorologist (BS and MS degrees), was certified as a consulting meteorologist and have worked in the air quality industry for over 40 years. I author two blogs. Environmental staff in any industry have to be pragmatic balancing risks and benefits and (https://pragmaticenvironmentalistofnewyork.blog/) reflects that outlook. The second blog addresses the New York State Reforming the Energy Vision initiative (https://reformingtheenergyvisioninconvenienttruths.wordpress.com). Any of my comments on the web or posts on my blogs are my opinion only. In no way do they reflect the position of any of my past employers or any company I was associated with.

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